Artistic Impressions: John Young exhibit revisits memories of Macau

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 2:38pm

I first met Hong Kong-born Australian artist John Young - with his wife and toddler son in tow - in 2000 when he was exhibiting with the John Batten Gallery. He was already an established artist, and my assignment was to write a profile-cum-restaurant review article.

I can't recall the details of his show now (something to do with the transience of life) but I distinctly remember it was very hard to ask questions, jot down notes and eat at the same time, and that Young was friendly, with a relaxed sense of humour. Of his chicken liver terrine, he commented that it was very nice "although its presentation could be improved".

The 56-year-old Melbourne-based artist is back in town for his latest solo show, The Macau Days, at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. Based on his research into the former Portuguese enclave, its narratives revolve around old Macau and its rich trans-cultural history as the oldest European settlement in Asia.

According to the gallery, Young's works "pay homage to the flight out, and to those historical figures - from Wenceslau de Moraes to Wu Li - who gave their lives to the great transformation, and their days spent in Macau".

Some of the old black-and-white images on display I find eerie and haunting, while his abstract oils have a touch of Francis Bacon to them. Even though made up of historical characters and events, Young's works don't actually tell stories, but evoke feelings and emotions for a bygone era.

"Macau is a place I have a great love for since a child," says Young, who left Hong Kong for Australia in 1967. "I heard Macau has changed a lot and I'd like to bring something of the past from Macau that had made the place great."

In recent years Young has been concentrating on projects that pay tribute to what he calls "cross-cultural humanitarians", and he has been awarded the Australia Council Visual Arts Fellowship to support the research and development of this area of his practice in 2012-14.

Meanwhile, some 50 commercial galleries in the city have got together to form the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association. The new body, which will be formally launched at the end of next month, aims to be the "united voice" of gallery operators.

Although its members are competitors, 10 Chancery Lane Gallery founder Katie de Tilly says there is still room for them to collaborate, including supporting and nurturing Hong Kong art and artists.